Company culture – aahhhhhhh!!!!!

What the heck is company culture?  SO MUCH has been written about it… so many people are talking about it… but what is it?  And more importantly, how do you get the culture you WANT in your company??

Our first order of business is to establish this fact: every business HAS a culture.  You already have an accepted way of doing things… it just may not be the way you WANT to do them.

So instead of trying to create a culture, you should probably be focused on changing the culture – which is ultimately more difficult, but not impossible.

If you went to the IAAPA Attractions Expo (#IAE16), you noticed a culture.  Remember that feeling when you walked into an education session or onto the trade show floor?  That palpable feeling of excitement, anticipation, and camaraderie, that you were sharing this experience with 30,000 of your closest friends?  That’s the “culture” of IAAPA, and it didn’t happen overnight.

And your current company culture didn’t just appear overnight, either. It has taken years of influence from you, previous leaders, and unofficial leaders (those without a title, but with plenty of influence). Notice I said influence, but didn’t assign a positive or negative spin to it.  The fact is that company culture is driven by both.

And here is the problem I have seen over the years… leaders start out with every intention of creating (or changing to) a positive culture, and they define the actions needed to get there.  Unfortunately, what they overlook is how to deal with the negative influences that creep up… the people who are not fully bought in… the curmudgeons who would rather see things stay the same (no matter how dysfunctional), and time.  The true time investment it will take to change the way people think, act, and perform their jobs.

Hopefully if you were at #IAE16, you took advantage of some of the educational sessions put on by the HR Committee.  Each of the sessions we planned had “culture” as our over-arching topic, then we divided it into subtopics, such as:

  • Recognition
  • Communication
  • Training
  • Leadership/Supervisory development
  • Recruiting/hiring
  • Onboarding
  • Front line staff development
  • Diversity
2016 Human Resources Symposium

2016 Human Resources Symposium at #IAE16

Even if you didn’t get to these sessions, the above topics can serve as a road map to changing your own culture.  Think it’s just about leadership?  Nope.  Gotta have the right people on board.  Think it’s just about proper training?  Nope.  Gotta have the right people processes in place.  It’s all connected.

It goes back to something you have probably heard me talk about before… the Employee Lifecycle.  Thinking about ALL of the factors that influence an employee’s experience (from recruiting to termination) is a necessary part of creating, defining, establishing and altering your company culture.

The Employee Lifecycle.  Don’t leave home without it.

So where does this leave us?  If you are trying to change your culture, know that it’s not going to be an overnight process.  Know that you are going to have stumbling blocks along the way (like people who don’t want to change).  Know that it will not come from a wall poster or new fancy set of values that you come up with but don’t uphold with your actions.  That’s the biggest culture killer of all… mixed messages when it comes to what you say you stand for.

Case in point – Over Thanksgiving, I was talking with my 26-year-old niece, Samantha, who works at a social media tech company in Austin, TX.  At one point, she said she really liked the company culture.  So I had to ask, what is it that you like?  She mentioned two main things:

  • The values of the company were widely accepted by the employees, and those who didn’t fit with the culture didn’t find themselves employed very long.  One example was that it’s an expectation to seek help when needed, to find ways to better yourself with the assistance of others on the team.  Those who felt they were the smartest people in the room, or that didn’t accept coaching or feedback, ultimately didn’t grow or build the right kind of relationships with those around them.  This is a case of the culture taking care of those who don’t fit the culture.
  • She knows what the values “look like” and how her daily actions uphold the company vision.  This is why fancy posters with verbose mission statements don’t work.  Without the right kind of reinforcement, people don’t even know what they mean, let alone know what they would have to DO to uphold or achieve the mission.  If an employee can’t see how their daily behaviors impact the bigger picture, they will never understand, nor buy into, the culture you are trying to create.  They just won’t.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Company Culture

Here are my bottom line must-do’s when thinking about changing your culture.

  • Decide what culture you want
  • Figure out what it takes (behaviorally) to get there.  Do that. Everyday.
  • Pursue your cultural goal relentlessly – DO NOT LET UP!
    • Hire people that will support your culture
    • Fire people who won’t
  • If something doesn’t fit your culture, don’t do it – no matter how expedient it might be.  You will only be hurting yourself.

Ultimately your culture will be what you decide it should be minus what you allow that it shouldn’t be.

Thanks for reading!!

Matt

The Myth of Employee Burnout shows leaders how each facet of the Employee Lifecycle is critical to keeping employees engaged.  For a limited time, use coupon code IAE16 to take 10% off!  Click here to order now!

(Additional bulk discounts will automatically be applied at checkout)

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Infographic “How To” Post 8: On A Mission

This is part 8 of a 10 part “how to” series covering the points in the infographic below.

Employees Stay8Of all the topics on this infographic, being “on a mission” could be one of the most important pieces of the puzzle.  Of course, it’s also one of the toughest ones to cultivate.

Or is it? Let’s explore.

Back in February of 2015, I wrote a post called, Is It Time To Rethink The Mission Statement?” My basic question was this: is YOUR mission statement doing what it was intended to do – unify your workforce toward a common goal?

Of course, a mission statement on a wall can’t do that.  In fact, it really can’t do anything. To me, mission and culture are very tightly aligned because both require action… consistent action… to be taken seriously.

For some reason, when I picture an employee “on a mission”, I conjure up a vision of someone with a steely stare, a fire in their gut and constantly on the move.  If they were a cartoon, they would have the little wispy lines behind them showing that they were swiftly moving about.

motion-lines-03But this post isn’t about what they look like, it’s about how you get them there.

Here are some questions to ask to get the ball rolling:

  • Does your company have a mission statement?
  • If so, is it concise and targeted, or a stew of buzz-wordy mumbo jumbo?
  • Is your mission supported throughout the organization with real-world behaviors?
  • Is your mission something that employees can believe in and get behind?

Let’s start at the beginning:

Does your company have a mission statement?

I looked up two definitions to dive into this topic:

  • Mission: an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction
  • Mission Statement: an official document that sets out the goals, purpose, and work of an organization.

If you have a mission statement, great.  You have organized your thoughts about the direction of the company and what you hope to accomplish/achieve.  Unfortunately, most people stop there thinking that just having this written down or on a fancy poster will make it come to life.  If that’s you, and you haven’t seen the results you are looking for, don’t despair… you are not alone.  Pay special heed to the 3rd and 4th bullet points below.

The reason just putting up the poster doesn’t work is because we are talking a mission. An important goal! A purpose! Strong conviction! When was the last time a poster, and a poster alone, inspired you to do something?  It’s usually the combination of interactions with others, an internal conviction of your own, a little research, the example set by others THEN seeing the poster may illicit some action.  But usually not by itself.

So does your mission statement convey and reflect of the true goals and purpose of the company?  As we’ll explore later, are YOU demonstrating a strong conviction or belief in that mission?

If you don’t have a mission statement for your organization, I am not going to tell you that you have to have one. Create one if you’d like, they can be helpful.  But be careful.  If you create a fancy mission statement and don’t uphold it through your actions, you will have wasted a lot of time.  On the other side of the coin, if everyone is already committed to a common goal, and that oozes from every pore of every being on the payroll, a statement on a wallet card probably won’t deliver a lot of traction.

If you do have a mission statement, is it concise and targeted, or a stew of buzz-wordy mumbo jumbo?

A stated goal or purpose that is easily remembered and defined for the individual is the first step in creating a mission statement that will actually help you get people on the same page.  Again, in-and-of-itself, the statement can’t do that.  But if it’s clear what the goal is and what employees need to do in whatever position they are in to help achieve it, then you’re closer to having a mission statement that will actually inspire people to join you on your mission.

For example, I’ve always liked the simplicity of Herchend Family Entertainment’s mission: Creating Memories Worth Repeating®.  We all know this business is about encouraging repeat visits to our locations, so charging employees at all levels with creating a memory that your guests will want to relive or re-experience is not only a great mission, but also a pretty great business model.

And, it transcends departments, making it easy to identify the types of actions someone in foods, merchandise, attractions, custodial, finance, marketing, sales, security, maintenance, admissions, etc. need to display on a daily basis to have a positive impact on the mission.  Granted, their audiences may be different, but the process of creating positive memories for an external guest or internal partner are largely the same; follow through on commitments, be respectful, deliver more than you promise.

Contrast that mission statement with the one I used (and made up) for my post from 2015: To deliver unparalleled care to our clients with employees who exceed all expectations of quality and cooperation and provide amazingly unbelievable returns to our shareholders.

That probably looks nice on a poster in the break room, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that most employees (including the leadership team) couldn’t decipher what that means in terms of daily behaviors, nor would they know when they achieved it.

So if you are going to have a mission, and a statement that embodies it for all employees to embrace and uphold, I implore you to keep it simple.

Is your mission supported throughout the organization with real-world behaviors?

This is why your mission needs to be simple, easy to remember, easy to embrace (see next section) and the behaviors that support it need to be easily identifiable for employees at all levels. Why? Because if people don’t get it, they ain’t gonna do it!

This is where mission and culture either make beautiful music together or repel one another like two North pole magnets.

Every company (or team) has a culture.  It may not be what you want to be, but there it is. And this culture, or the way stuff gets done in your organization, has everything to do with whether or not your mission will be supported.

Picture this: a brand new employee has just completed their orientation.  They heard all about the company, the mission, and the do’s and don’ts.  They get to their work location the next day, and either by implication or by direct example, are shown that things in the “field” are vastly different than what was discussed at orientation. The current culture doesn’t understand, buy in, support, or embrace the mission that the company is going for, and has decided to run things their own way.

And chances are, the leadership teams across property also don’t understand, buy in, support or embrace the mission either.  Thus, the trickle down to the front line and now the new hire.

No matter what your mission statement is, there are some critical steps to be taken to translate the words on a poster into real actions and behaviors that will drive your culture:

  • Define the mission – in terms of behaviors, and what it “looks like” to each and every role at all levels.  On a daily basis, what would an accountant, supervisor, F&B attendant, or ride operator do that supports your goals?
  • Live the mission – your culture is a reflection of what you do everyday.  Are you living by the mission that you set for everyone else?  Is the mission part of your daily meetings, goals, recruiting efforts, training practices, and termination process?  In other words, is the mission reinforced in every aspect of the employee lifecycle?  If someone, anyone, is acting in a way that is inconsistent with the mission, why are they still on payroll?  (This is ESPECIALLY true of leaders and executives.) You cannot expect your new employees to embrace a mission that isn’t being supported by the people they are working with everyday.
  • Measure the mission – is the mission part of how you evaluate your employees?  If not, it should be.  If you are going to expect people to do something, you better measure their progress.  Once you have defined what the mission looks like, you now have the criteria for measurement, and even for seasonal employees, it’s critical they know how they are measuring up. “People will respect what you inspect.”  I can’t remember who said that, but it has stuck with me for years. If you want people to provide great service, you better inspect how they are providing service.  You want people to treat others with respect, you better inspect how they are treating others.

Even if you have a simple, easy to understand mission statement, if your culture isn’t supporting it, it’s just a statement.

Is your mission something that employees can believe in and get behind?

This is why you have a mission in the first place, right?  It’s a beacon on a foggy night helping to lead your employees through murky waters.  But, do they care?  Is it something that means something to them?  Is it a direction they want to go?  Is the outcome important to them?

Lots of mission statements mention providing some sort of service to the guests. Why is that important to your employees (again, at all levels).  I think it’s easier to understand this dynamic as a leader, someone who has invested the time to understand the inner workings of the organization.  But to the 17 year-old who got a summer job, they may not have that perspective, not because they are stupid or lazy, but just because they lack the years of experience. So how do you frame your mission to provide great guest service so it not only makes sense to the 17 year-old, but also makes them want to get behind it and support it?

Part of this is the example we set, as we discussed in the section about the mission being supported by real world behaviors. If we value it, they will be more likely to value it, too.

The other part of this is looking at it from their perspective.  We often think of our mission in terms of “what’s in it for the company?”.  Since the success of the company is a result of the efforts of the employees, why not look at it as, “what’s in it for the employees?”, too?

Many of our younger employees want to work for an employer who is doing good (or the right) things. You know you already do good things (and hopefully you are doing the right things).  Does your mission reflect that?  Or, is the mission all about guests, business results and shareholder confidence?  Does it address the kind of environment you are creating for your employees or the service they get to provide?  And I don’t mean the tasks they do… that’s their job.  I’m referring to bigger picture kind of service of escapism, safety, fantasy, memories, family togetherness, etc.  That is a mission that people can get behind.

When all you talk about is ringing up a sale and throughput, you aren’t allowing your employees to embrace the bigger service picture.  You are keeping them rooted in their tasks, not challenging them to be a part of something ultimately more rewarding.

And working to achieve a mission should be rewarding, because if it’s not, why would you want to do it?

Next up: Empowered

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.

Is it time to rethink the mission statement?

We’ve all heard our share of corporate mission statements. We’ve all seen them boldly emblazoned on a poster, in a handbook, or on a wallet card. Heck, some of us have probably even written them. A recent experience at Kennedy Space Center got me thinking about the way companies typically use the mission statement, and whether or not it is as effective as it could be.

Many of the mission statements I have seen are ahead-looking, just-out-of-reach statements that are intended to inspire people to continually strive for excellence in the pursuit of the overall goal.

That’s fine, except when you never actually REACH a goal, it can be pretty discouraging.

That synapse fired during my visit to KSC when our tour guide kept talking about the missions that NASA planned and completed, including Apollo 13, which was dubbed a “successful failure”.  The point that I got from this was… these missions all had one thing in common: an end.

They had a mission to go to the moon.  Check.

They had a mission to build a space station.  Check.

The corporate world got a hold of this concept, and we now have mission statements that look like this:

Our Mission: to deliver unparalleled care to our clients with employees who exceed all expectations of quality and cooperation and provide amazingly unbelievable returns to our shareholders.

Where do I put the check mark? How do I know when the mission is complete?

The real disconnect I have noticed is in translating that high flying goal into specific behaviors and tangible results.  Without a specific strategy, mission statements like this often dwell in the black hole of “I think we have a mission statement… something about making money and quality clients…”

And if that’s the case, your mission is doomed to fail.  Too many people have different ideas of what the mission means, if they think of it at all.

Case in point…

While in line to board the tour bus at KSC, a photographer gave us a “mission”.  Put your hands over your ears.

YourPhoto2We all did it, but clearly we had our own ideas of what we should be doing and why.  I thought we should be acting as if the shuttle was really right behind us, pumping out a deafening roar.  Apparently, I was alone in this interpretation.

But that’s my point – an unclear mission leads to haphazard performance.

For the record, I am not saying you shouldn’t have a mission, or a statement that encapsulates the essence of what we are trying to accomplish. But, we do have to be prepared for people to interpret it however they see fit if:

  • It’s so nebulous and full of jargon and non-speak that no one can understand it, or…
  • If the behaviors that uphold it are not role modeled or reinforced.

Is it time to rethink the mission statement?  If yours is incomprehensible, I would say yes.  If yours is easily understood, but people aren’t abiding by it, then it’s time to rethink the way you support it.

Remember, it’s not just a statement, it’s your mission.

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author: Matt’s mission statement for Performance Optimist Consulting is “Helping Leaders Lead”.  Leaders are supposed to lead, but sometimes they need some help, and that’s where Matt comes in – delivering interactive keynotes, customized training workshops and individual coaching.  Need help figuring out how to get your leaders to support your mission?  That’s one of Matt’s specialties!